Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Before we relocate to Chile, we are taking a week's  holiday driving a great big equilateral triangle (For a given definition of triangle, and an even looser definition of equilateral) through Australia's Top End.   

The next morning we drove back to Darwin.
            A Potted History:  The area of Port Darwin has been home to the Larrakia people for millennia.   The Europeans didn't arrive until 1839, and took another 30 years to think about stopping there to stay.  For the Larrakia people, that went about as well as you can imagine.  In 1870 Darwin gained some prominence as the site of the very first post of the Overland Telegraph - the great engineering achievement that connected Australia with the world.  The same year, workers sinking telegraph posts several hundred kilometers to the south struck gold - and the Pine Creek Gold Rush put Darwin onto the map, as an entry point for the North.
            Darwin has risen to national prominence twice in the twentieth century - It languished, a sleepy port town in the tropical heat until WW2, when it was a major point of national defense through the War of the Pacific.  In 1942 the Japanese bombed Darwin - dropping more bombs on the city than were dropped on Pearl Harbor (courtesy of the same fleet, in fact.) Darwin was bombed all the way through 1942 and 1943, until the Japanese were pushed back north up through Papua New Guinea.
            Darwin received another wallop - and its place in modern Australian mythology- when a completely unprepared city was flattened by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve, 1974.  In a single night, 70 percent of the city was destroyed - a whole city gone in a night.  1974 was before the days of cell and satellite phones so it took a day or so for the news to trickle out to the rest of Australia, but when it did, the result was the largest airlift in Australian History.  In a town of 43, 000 people, they flew out 30, 000 of them in the days between Christmas and the New Year.  There was - literally - nothing left for them to stay for.
            No water, no medicine, no homes, no clothes -
            Mum remembers it.  That year she was spending the New Year with friends in Adelaide.  She remembers flying into the Adelaide airport and seeing an aircraft hanger lined with tables piled high with donated clothing, and crowds of blank-faced people in t-shirts and rubber thongs (you wear 'em on your feet, people, not your bottoms.  Up North you call 'em flip flops and Hawaiianas) and ragged pajamas pawing through it all looking for something that would fit.
            The people that remained in Darwin - those that refused to go, and those that had nowhere else to go, lived in tent camps and on ships anchored in the harbor, and together they rebuilt the town.  It was a good time for them, considering: bank clerks and schoolteachers turned themselves into builders and construction suppliers, and launched the businesses that still control the industry there today.
            The city that was rebuilt after Tracy bears little resemblance to the sleepy town turned to splinters and sawdust back 1974. It's still a small town, hot and parched and spread out wide and panting under the sun -  but the population has quadrupled to almost 130 000 people.  They live in houses built up on breeze-blocks with concrete hurricane cores locked onto the foundations, or houses built small and bunker-like  out of concrete and veiled with bougainvillea and frangipani (that would be plumeria, for you benighted lot up in the northern hemisphere)and there is a 21st century downtown on the edge of the water - built sky-high with airy condominiums and business towers. The Darwinians who lived through Tracy look somewhat askance at downtown, and wonder what happened to the Post-Tracy building codes, and what will happen next time a blow like that comes through.

We arrived back in town in time for the Mindil Beach Evening Market.  A weekly art-and-craft-and-homemade jam sort of street show and street fair down on the beach.  The goods were mostly the usual floating international tat, but there was a good fire-dancer and acres of good food -  and  there was a sunset.
            Mr Tabubil and I scratched our heads.  It was an all-right sunset, but nothing spectacular.  No color, no fire, no great glowing balls of flame sinking into the sea -  nothing at all to write home about, in fact, but as the sun dropped behind the sea what must have been half a thousand people materialized in twos and tens and hundreds out of the dune grass to take pictures of it.
            We couldn't see the draw ourselves.  So we took pictures of them instead.

The Sunset in Question:

The Crowd:

The Crowd when it was really fierce:

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